"Little England" cycle of retreat from responsibility initiated by failure at Suez

After the victory in the Falklands war, Burt, Assistant Secretary of State-Designate for European Affairs reported to Secretary of State Haig in a telegram saying:
Opinion is divided in the UK about the long-term impact of the Falklands crisis. Some, such as Julian Bullard, see the Falklands war as an ephemeral episode with little lasting significance. Others, including Sir Michael Palliser, suggest that victory in the South Atlantic has restored the confidence of the British people, ending the “little England” cycle of retreat from responsibility initiated by failure at Suez.
(source:Foreign Relations of the United States, 1981–1988, Volume Document 358)

Why did he use the term of little England cycle of retreat from responsibility initiated by failure at Suez? I know what happened during the Suez crisis.
What did the UK do after the Suez crisis to make Burt describe Britain as " little England cycle of retreat from responsibility"?
Thank you.

The period after the Suez Crisis is when Britain “lost” or gave up most of the British Empire. Those thinking Britain was better off that way than putting more effort into remaining an Empire could be dubbed to be focused on “little England”.

So Burt was implying that Britain was trying to “go back on the streets” after the victory with its “new look”?
Thank you.

A couple of things:

“cycle of retreat” has too much similarity to “make America great again” to avoid scrutiny. The UK had provided healthcare and employment stability, but the temptation to go back to the have vs have-nots was always there.

Haig was supposed to read between the lines. He and Reagan had dreaded a war between any US allies, and Haig had taken a grueling task of shuttle diplomacy to forestall it. The message was “you yanks spoiled our party in Suez, but not this time.”

A diplomatic sop to Washington was “but now we can look even tougher in the standoff with the Soviets, which is your ultimate goal. So don’t complain.”

The UK had pointed out that of Washington’s two allies, one was a dictatorship that murdered dissidents in secret, so the time had come to take a stand. Good point, and Thatcher played up the similarities with WWII, although the UK had no intention of storming any Argentine detention centers.

The UK had never had a bad Cold War anyway. They’d won the Malaysian Emergency, and none of their other post-colonial conflicts involved significant Soviet interference. The Bomb in ‘52, a lot of squaddies in Germany, and a pretty good intelligence agency (despite the Cambridge Five) shifted the USSR’s efforts onto the US’s doorstep.

(OT, I’ve been searching contemporary UK reactions to Nasser’s nationalization of the canal to see if any Colonel Blimps, by that same viewpoint, now disagreed with Henry VIII’s confiscation of the monasteries).

“Little Englander” has s long history in British politics as a term used in the 19 th century to mean a person who opposed British expansion. They were often associated with the Liberal party, but not all Liberals were Little Englanders.

It didn’t really change the UK’s strategic position. What the Suez crisis showed was that the United Kingdom, even acting in concert with France, could no longer intervene in global affairs unless it was supported by the United States.

This certainly was not reversed by the Falkland Islands conflict. It’s not heavily publicized but the United States gave the UK a lot of logistic support. It’s doubtful the British could have fought the war without this.

Thank you so much, but what is "The Bomb in “52”?

The reaction to Suez in the Tory Party may well have accelerated, rather than initiated, the withdrawal from Empire, but perhaps what Palliser also had in mind were

  • the inability to develop and renew a wholly independent nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, leading to the adoption of Polaris in the early 60s

  • the withdrawal from military presence “east of Suez”, which was a hot issue for the Labour government of the later 60s

  • the turmoil in both parties about whether/how to join the European Common Market, and abandon Commonwealth Preference tariffs and trading arrangements.

The overall “mood music” was that the lesson to be learnt from Suez was never to get on the wrong side of the US and to cling to the supposed “special relationship” (whereas I think, for the French establishment, it reinforced a long-standing insistence on being as independent as possible of the US).

Plus, there was a long-running narrative of relative economic decline, particularly in relation to Germany and the other Common Market countries.

(Pedantic footnote: whatever Thatcher may have said about the Falklands getting rid of a brutal military dictatorship, she was happy to back up the equally brutal Pinochet in Chile because he, for his own reasons, assisted and supported the UK against Argentina)

Thank you very much.

Thank you PatrickLondon.
After reading your response, I realize the meaning of realism.
The cooperation between countries, be it the US or the UK, dictators can be partners as long as they are in your interests as part of strategic alliance.

Thank you very much. Do you think there is still a divide on the idea of “little Englander” in the UK now?

Thank you, Little_Nemo.
Do you happen to know any academic articles evaluating the possibility of winning the Falklands war without the assistance of the U.S.?
Thank you.

Not in the terms in which it was originally conceived, but as in any other country there are quite strong and deep divides about what the country’s international stance and ambitions should be. The obvious example is the Brexit debate, but you could argue that some vestige of “Little England” thinking is present on both sides. Likewise, how would America First/isolationism sit in relation to MAGA?

Sorry, forgive my limited knowledge, but how is America First different MAGA? Please enlighten me. Thank you.

I may be wrong but I understand “America First” as being against getting involved with other countries, and MAGA as wanting to be all that a world power entails. It’s basic human nature to have contradictory impulses, and you can see that in most parts of the political spectrum.

Personally, I would interpret America First as one of the approaches to MAGA, but I maybe wrong as well. Thank you for your responses.

You might have better luck looking for contemporaneous reactions.


What has Colonel Blimp got to do withHenry VIII’s confiscation of the monasteries? Please enlighten me. Thank you.

Jingoistic, nationalistic Britons tend to look back on Henry’s confiscations as a positive.

This same group looked upon the nationalization of the canal as an illegal grab by a bunch of jumped-up wogs.